Regarding all the feelings of failure

This year I have readopted a title I'm very familiar with: freelance writer. I've done this before a few times in my life - not had another job while solely freelancing - and while it is "interesting" and a super flexible way to work (and it must be noted, something I am luckily able to do because of my spouse's steady job with benefits) I dislike a number of the specifics that accompany this career choice.

For one thing, even though I have better connections and am at least a little better established at this point in my life, I constantly have to think about finding new work, about how much it'll pay and if it's worth it. I also have to think about balancing my more creative work, which often requires many hours of writing and then waiting anxiously to get something placed, with my more lucrative work (things like copywriting for marketing departments at businesses and non-profits), which is guaranteed pay but takes time away from writing things I'm more excited about; things that may or may not eventually see the light of day in an actual publication. 

This is where I'm going to pause and say two quick things. One, I am an incredibly fortunate person, so please feel free to find this complaining obnoxious, even though I promise I'm simply trying to illuminate feelings and not elicit pity. Two, if you do find it super annoying, but are, say, someone who works at a newspaper, magazine or website and is looking for a pretty funny, always-caffeinated staff writer who will totally gossip with you in addition to doing - oh just for instance - a regular, relatable column about all the amusing moments in her life, then, yes, I'm available for interviews. 

Anyway, back to my unwarranted list of grievances. Another thing that's difficult for me about the writing life is that it can be a solitary affair. Happily, I do some journalism that requires interviews, and interviewing people about their passions is one of my favorite things. Also, because of the flexibility involved, I get to have coffee and lunch dates with friends, and I often work in public places. This is important for me because I'm an extroverted person and without the stimulus of human connection, I wither. Even a quick fix - a phone call, or banter with strangers while running an errand - helps a ton, and I try to infuse my day with these interactions.

When you get down to it, though, the actual writing part is a lonely affair. That's ok, because I enjoy the process (you know, mostly) but I sometimes wish I could schedule a meeting with a bunch of coworkers who could help me brainstorm ideas, or convince me to finish the damn article instead of checking Twitter for a quick sec, which will without quesion not be a quick sec. 


But the hardest thing for me lately is that I feel badly about myself. I know. I know. I shouldn't! I know, because I have supportive people in my life who give me nothing but confidence, and I know, because I am balancing a lot of life responsibilities and it's all going well. 

Also, by this point in my life, I know that this is not a helpful way to feel. It yields nothing good. I feel it anyway. 

I feel badly that I haven't published more things in more places, that I'm not pitching more stories, that I'm not making lots of money. I feel badly that I'm not writing about more "important subjects." Again, I know it's all fine. That I'm busy, have three kids and multiple other responsibilities that can slow the process down and there's nothing wrong with that; that I am publishing pieces I'm proud of and writing about ordinary life is what I tend to do well. 


I learned about the term "imposter syndrome" while talking with friends a few years ago. Somehow I'd never heard of it before. It's what happens when a person has trouble recognizing their accomplishments. They worry they'll be exposed as a fraud. When my friends explained the idea, I was like OH MY GOD. THAT. Yeah. I have that. 

To be clear, I don't feel this way all, or even most of the time. I have productive, happy days. I think that the reason these feelings crop up with my writing is that I'm trying to define success all by myself, and I'm not exactly sure what it is. I think that so many of us have these feelings - in creative and other professional endeavors - and in our personal lives, too. Sometimes I start worrying about whether or not I'm a good enough dog owner. Then I start worrying about how we are managing our upcoming move. Then I start wondering if I'm even an adult at all. 

When I start down this road of various anxieties, I don't always address it in the right way. The right way (and I know these actions are the "right way" because they feel good) might be to finish up a story, schedule an interview, or compose a perfect pitch, which, if not accepted, will be because the person on the receiving end is insane (is something I tell myself). The right way might be to get a few great paragraphs in on an essay I'm writing, or to do something totally non-writing related: call my mom, or exercise. 

The right way, it turns out, is not to start anxiously scrolling jobs sites or looking at questionable "freelancer needed" posts, and thinking about how to get more work in the quickest way possible. The right way to handle my feelings of insecurity is not eating candy or looking at social media and getting nervous about how successful all you guys are. It's not to text J one million stress-driven messages about whether or not I'm doing anything with my life, although, sorry buddy, I'm never going to stop doing this, you made a decision when you married me and it involved "in good times and bad." 

I don't have a tidy solution to resolve this issue. I DO find great solace in commiserating with friends, fellow writers and other parents. And in dumping on my feelings in a public forum like this one. Thanks, guys. 

I also decided to break out some elementary school math symbols, marking the first time ever I've used math in real life, and create this lesser than/greater than list to help me navigate these feelings moving forward, and maybe help some of you who trend towards this particular form of madness. Your examples are probably different than mine, but you get the picture. 

  • frantically scanning media jobs sites < writing an essay
  • working on my book > wondering if I'm too old to go to grad school and become an English professor
  • confidently telling people "I'm working on a book" > nervously telling people "I'm working on a 'larger writing project'" and then changing the subject
  • looking at social media, cursing myself for not being good at social media AND not as successful as that friend-of-a-friend who is really good at self-promoting < going for a run 
  • watching another hour of cable news < reading a chapter of a good book
  • blogging > composing a probably clever Tweet then deleting it at the last second
  • Googling people to find out how old they are and then feeling resentful of their youthful accomplishments < taking a 15-minute restorative nap
  • "fake it til you make it" > "I have no idea what I'm doing"
  • making an ambitious daily to-do list > indulging in negative feelings about my career 
  • scheduling my time effectively > waiting for inspiration
  • sending out more pitches, ideas and introductory emails < checking again to see if anyone emailed me back
  • tea > Diet Coke
  • walking the dog > all of the above    


The other day we were chatting after finishing part of the multi-faceted drive we've undertaken for this year's Presidents' Day/February vacation: from New Haven to Chapel Hill to reunite with wonderful friends we hadn't seen in forever, then onto Charlotte for our annual Presidents' Day tradition with the crew - and learning that James K. Polk actually did some important stuff, you guys - then onto Charleston, SC, where me and the kids met my mom. J had to fly back to work this week but the kids are on break and while being in the house with them all week sounds interesting, we decided to prolong our absence from the northeast.

We're here in this glorious city til the weekend, when we'll make the drive home, dropping my mom off in MD along the way. That drive will be FINE and probably FUN (positive mantras are important!) 

I mean, car rides our tough. Take, for instance, the extreme, very negative reaction my children displayed upon being a little bit uncomfortable while getting into the overheated minivan following a lunch break near Columbia in such gorgeous, mild 75-degree weather that we got to sit outside. My children are far too used to being freezing by this point in the season and, it's ok - say it - also insane. 

Anyway, we were talking about the phrase, "worth it" when we got to our hotel in Charleston and I was deciding between valet and self-parking. I was telling the kids that the valet parking wasn't "worth it" when the garage was right there, and parking the car myself was no problem. 

Gabriel asked what "worth it" meant, and I explained that it means when having, or doing, something might be a little bit of a struggle, or cost some money, but it's really good and you don't regret it. And that not worth it was the opposite. 

So we parked our car easily in the garage and made our way down to the hotel where we - in rapid-fire fashion - found some snacks, went for a quick swim and then met my mom before heading out to dinner. 

I've only visited Charleston once when I was much younger and it's a fantastic city. It's one of those places that makes me a little stressed, to tell you the truth, because there are so many things I want to be doing every second of the day (fine, mainly food things) but when you're vacationing with young children you kind of have to go with the flow. Especially when there's a pool at your hotel that has an adjoining, sunny patio and kids mainly want to do that,  and when you explain to them that it's time to get ready and go to another restaurant, they make faces like you've killed their souls. Despite the fact that what you actually have done is brought them on a lovely vacation. 

Yesterday we went exploring in the car, which is something I'd been really excited to do. I like laid back beach towns and wanted to check out some of the nearby islands. Sometimes I think I would have been happy living barefoot on an island somewhere listening exclusively to reggae music, although to be honest, I probably I would have gotten super annoyed with a lot of things about that lifestyle eventually. Or. Sooner then eventually. Like, immediately.

We had lunch in Folly Beach, then headed over the impressive Ravenel Bridge to Sullivan's Island, where we got gelato then drove around to look at all the pretty houses. We went down a side street and discovered an artist's home studio filled with eccentric teapots and garden ornaments with cheerful little faces. Then we found a wooden bridge leading over the dunes and through all that gorgeous South Carolina foliage ("Mommy! Is this the forest?" Aidy asked) to the wide, pristine beach studded with people and lots of dogs. And then my kids RAN. They ran like they'd never seen the ocean before, splashing and digging in the sand and getting their clothes totally wet, while my mom looked for shells and I screamed after them not to run too far away and none of them listened. 


When we got back into town, we decided to forgo real dinner plans and have snacks and drinks at our hotel, which is exactly the kind of thing that can save the evening on a trip like this, when everyone is staying up past their bedtime on a regular basis and the most relaxing thing is remaining as physically close as possible to where the beds are. 

When I woke up the next morning I realized my children were sleeping in and that if I was stealthy could make myself a cup of coffee, watch the news in bed, and catch some coverage of the utterly inspiring high school kids in Parkland and the nation's reaction to them, giving me more hope than I've felt in a long time. I  tiptoed to the Keurig that was unfortunately closer to their beds than mine, quietly poured in the water, pressed the correct buttons and then silently cursed the fact that goddamn Keurigs make A LOT OF NOISE. I was hightailing it back, hot cup in my hand, when I noticed Gabe, always our earliest riser, lying awake and wide-eyed in his bed. With intense hand gestures and mouthed instructions I told him to come join me in my room, where we made an impromptu "art studio" for him on the floor next to the open curtain, letting the morning light flood in on his notebook and pencils. 

I turned the news on and settled in, and suddenly remembered a conversation J and I had with someone a long time ago, who told us that hotel coffee pots are infamously germy. J has brought it up every time we're in a hotel that has one. I don't worry much about germs; it's not one of my chosen anxieties (which believe me, I have) but I thought about it as I looked down at my frothy cup of French roast, perfect mostly because it was available to me before my family was mobile that morning. Then I took a sip and sank into the moment, Gabriel - so often complaining - was lost in his project on the floor and the girls quiet. I wondered about what you could get, really, from exposure? Legionnaires' Disease? Avian flu? 

"Worth it," I thought, as my son and I enjoyed a memorable few minutes of calm while he drew, the newscasters proclaimed change was coming and the sun steamed in our window and on the streets of the awaiting city below. 

This is 40 and I think I am into it

On January 5, while dealing with our chaotic daily routine, receiving loving well-wishes from near and far, opening cards that contained jokes about how old I was and eating a cake that had the legendary picture of me at my most insanely awkward teenage stage meeting Bon Jovi emblazoned across it's surface, I turned 40. I felt...the same. But the day, as it does, just due to that number screaming its cultural significance in your face  (FOUR-OH) at every juncture, felt weighty. And it wasn't due only to the amount of cake I ate. Have I talked about my situation with birthday cake on this site? About how much I love it, and love icing especially, and how I can't be around birthday cake it unless I'm eating it or planning the next time I'm going to eat some of it? Probably. I think about it all the time.

bon jovi cake.jpg

In my semi-limited experience so far, being 40 includes some negatives, like having to schedule a mammogram - which, wait, don't get mad, I realize is important and life-saving, but is not something I am exactly looking forward to - and filling in my age on the forms one has to fill out on various occasions (like when I get my mammogram, that'll be one of them) and now having to put "40," and then having a small but somewhat crippling episode where I think about my life's accomplishments and if they're good enough and what if I'm never good enough??

There are positives, too, of course, like the increasing comfort I've accrued in recent years about - well - everything. My likes, and dislikes and decisions about how I spend my time. My hair and my height. Certain declarations, like the one I made as I sipped coffee in bed with J before the rush this morning that I am not going to get up before 6 am and exercise in February, I'm just not going to do that, or feel bad about not doing that. I'm 40 now.

It's trite and common but true: because of my age, and simply because of life, I care about different things than I used to, and I'm happy to report that caring about those things more feels better. I care more about quality time with my children and less about securing quality time with myself; this isn't because I'm a better person but because I've arrived, through the basic algorithms of time, at a less labor-intensive stage of parenthood, and my kids, now a little older, are more capable of hanging out in a real way. Even Aidy, at only three, is a delightful companion, which might be a result of the fact that, as our third and most effusively social child - stating, every single night, that she'd prefer "a friend" to sleep with - the brand of parenting she receives is far less stringent. We watched "Say Yes to the Dress" the other night well past her bedtime, all snuggled in bed and I didn't for a moment worry about how I'd eventually get her out of there.

I care more about doing the right thing, both because you should do the right thing and because I want to be a good role model for my children. I've started blathering on about important issues in an admittedly annoying fashion at times (usually in the car where the kids can't escape) which Nora calls me out on consistently: "We KNOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE KIND IT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING STOP TALKING." She can spot my good-willed tirades from a mile away at this point. Like when I perk up while listening to a public radio story and then turn it down and announce, "Hey guys! Do you know what 'civil rights' are?" and she starts groaning because, once again, I've interrupted something super fun they were talking about to deliver an impromptu ethics lesson.

I am not, not even in the slightest, trying to point out how wonderful I am now that I'm 40. Only that all the things I care about are much closer to the surface. I won't shut up about them. This probably a typical tendency for all of us as we get older, and is probably why children get so embarrassed by their parents.

There are the less overt moments that mark this age, too. Last night I put on a facial mask - the kind where the treatment adheres to an actual mask, with eye and mouth holes - and turned on the television. The children were asleep and J was playing guitar downstairs, and I was blissfully alone, practically brain dead from a few insanely busy days, and excited to channel surf, which, in this age of binging shows on Apple TV, we just don't do anymore.

I stumbled unto an MTV show called, "Siesta Key," the network's latest iteration of reality programming, featuring sun-kissed young people trying to figure out what to wear to a costume party and also if Garrett really did his girlfriend wrong, or something like that.

I watched - aghast at their youth, at the vapidity of this show - looking like the villain from every horror movie with that mask on. I had tea on the beside table, and the house was full and calm and warm. I relaxed on the pillows, feeling so acutely the distance covered since I was that young. And the possibility simmering in all the years ahead.

2018 goal (singular)

A few weeks ago I ran the Christopher Martin's Christmas Run for Children, an annual 5K in New Haven. The event raises money and collects toys for local families in need, which is wonderful and important. Less important but very fun? People who run this race like to dress up in festive fear, from Santa hats to full elf suits, and everyone drinks beer after. 

I signed up for this race -- and hold up, side note: I know, I'm talking about running again and if you want to hear the honest truth this hurts me more than it hurts you because, as I've mentioned, I've always regarded people who talk about athletic feats with a healthy dose of skepticism to say the very least, like, who are you? I know who I am. I like to read books on the couch or, I admit it, watch television with my husband,  is who I am. So, talking about running as much as I have on this blog over the last couple years, I know. I KNOW. It's weird. Just please realize that with me, it's never really about a feat. It's more about the process. Like how "Moby Dick" was actually about writing. 

ANYWAY, I signed up for this race in November because I hadn't been exercising at all and I decided that knowing I had a 5K coming up with inspire me. It did, at least a little. Running in the winter, and with our schedule this year, is challenging. The best time for me to do it is early in the morning before anyone wakes up, around 5:45 am, and as anyone who lives in Connecticut knows, that hour on a cold December morning is an unpleasant time to be cognizant.   I could also run later in the evenings, once J is home and the family is settling down for the evening, around 7:30 pm, but I'm much less likely to get motivated in the evening. This is a psychological truth about myself that I firmly recognize, and yet, when I'm lying in my warm bed and the alarm goes off at 5:45 am, I still think, "Hey! You could go tonight!"

The point being, I didn't run a ton before this race - a few morning and weekend runs in the month prior - but my body seems to have miraculously retained a base level of fitness following the marathon last year, and I knew I could run three miles without collapsing. So on that very cold Sunday morning, me, J and the kids (my cheering section, plus I thought they'd get a kick out of all the costumes) drove downtown and I found my place at the start line among some very serious-looking runners as well as a lot of less-serious looking runners who were already talking about the beer. 

This race is a nice, easy course around New Haven, starting and ending on the eastern side of the city. I wasn't out to reach any personal goals (please be aware: I almost never am) but I also thought that maybe I'd be able to run at a decent clip, doing a little better than I'd done in the past when running 5Ks. I believed this despite the fact that I had barely been running, not regularly at all since the marathon, over a year before, and barely at all in the weeks before this particular race. Whatever! I guess I just figured I could harness the power of the holiday spirit and pick up the pace. 

I realized during the first mile that this was, you know, faulty logic. I was pushing it harder than I normally do when out for my infrequent jogs, and was feeling the first mile. I didn't worry about it (one thing the marathon truly did for me was change my mindset when dealing with physical strain, as well as teach me about pacing myself), I simply started thinking about how I wanted to handle the next two.

I thought about this one truth that I know for sure, but I forget in my day-to-day actions, kind of like how I know there is no way in hell I'm going to go for a run at night, when I could be getting down to business relaxing. 

I thought, "Ok. You could continue trying to run at this same pace and get it over with. Or you could slow down, and it'll take a little longer." And, the kicker: "Both options are equally difficult." This was the reality. And it's the reality so much of the time, at least in my sphere. I wasn't killing myself out there. I just wanted to keep doing a good job. And the difference between a good job, which I was totally capable of, and a subpar job, which I was also obviously capable of, didn't really have to do with my energy level. It had to do with my mindset. 

(Oh my god, this post is getting very "be-your-best-self" and I apologize. Maybe it's the fact that New Year's is coming, or that I'm about to turn 40 - FORTY!!! Whatever the case, I apologize, but I have to finish. Bear with me.) 

This thing is true often at various junctures throughout my day, and I think a lot of you might recognize it, because I'm not talking about some special feeling I have, I'm talking about a very regular, very common feeling that occurs when you've got a lot going on, and trying hard - old school, like when you were a kid, giving it your best - seems like the more difficult option. 

This happens to me most when I'm doing two things: writing, and dealing with my children. Two totally different activities, requiring totally different skill sets. And yet, the same feeling.

At night, maybe J isn't home yet, and I really am exhausted after a day of switching between working and parenting mindsets, dealing with a few tantrums, having not gotten enough sleep. I'm trying to get the kids to brush their teeth and put their pajamas on so we can get bedtime rolling, and it feels so much easier to slide into the couch and announce that I'm tired and let the whole affair turn into pandemonium, because that's what will happen if I lose sight of the goal. 

That feels so much easier. Rather than summoning the energy neccessary to ignore the whining, march the children upstairs, put the toothbrushes in their hands and fully engage with the various needs of my adorable, infuriating little crew. It feels easier to let it all slip, but it isn't. Summoning the energy, doing it right, is easier, quicker and more fulfilling. Every single time. 

When I'm writing - or doing any work - I tend to fall into the same trap. Ignoring distractions and indulging (yes, it's like indulging when I allow myself the proper space) in a solid hour of putting words on the page is so satisfying. It always feels easier, though, to resist work until the last minute, try to write through distractions - including distracting myself - or when I truly don't have the time. It feels easier then setting deadlines and getting it done. But listen to me. It is not. Just like running that 5K a little bit faster than normal and getting it done is the same amount of difficult, or probably even less difficult, as running it at a slower pace.

Both take work. One feels infinitely better.

I'm guessing you're like, "Um, ok, so your massive realization is that it feels better and is more productive to work hard and do a good job? And you're just figuring this out?" 

What I'm telling you is, "Ok, agreed, that's pretty ridiculous. I have always known this, because everybody knows it on a certain level, but what I'm actually saying is that far too often I choose the other option because it feels easier, and more pleasant. What I'm realizing as I become older and possibly wiser, is that it isn't."

And that's what I want to think about this coming year. It's what I want to think about as I embark on new creative projects, having recently left my job at a non-profit and now writing full time, working on my own clock and often setting my own deadllines. It's what I want to think about as I deal with my busy little familiy and the fights that break out between my nine, six and three-year-old, and as we take on new "va-ventures" (that's Aidy speak, and I'm never teaching her the right way to say it).

Less fretting, more action. The former doesn't make anything easier, although I realize it's ok to devolve into a session every now and then (especially first thing in the morning when you're barely awake, J, and I decide to unleash every single one of my currrent anxieties before you've even taken your first sip of coffee, SORRY! you're the best).

During the last mile of the 5K I noticed a man just ahead of me in a full reindeer suit. He was a big guy, and I wouldn't exactly say he had a runner's body. The only festive gear I had on was socks with a Christmas lights print and a Santa hat that I'd abandoned in the beginning of the race because it was annoying me. Otherwise, I was all business. 

I could easily pass him, I thought. If you can't pass the guy in the full reindeer suit before the finish line, what is even happening?! Pass him! Pass him!

I couldn't do it. Because, bottom line, I'm not a fast runner. But in 2018 I'm going to run as fast as I can.